12 Fascinating Facts about the Panama Canal

_DSC0987I spent my Boxing Day morning watching cargo ships go through Panama Canal from the viewing platform at Gatun Locks. That’s certainly more exciting (and strangely mesmerising) then watching telly in your living room!

Panama Canal is one of the greatest feats of Engineering in human history. The American-built waterway across Panama connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans officially opened on August 15,1914, following a disastrous attempt by the French to build the very same canal in late 19th century.


Here is a selection of fascinating facts about the Panama Canal…

1. The idea for the Panama Canal dates back all the way to the 16th Century.

2. Panama Canal is a 50 mile-long passage across the Isthmus of Panama, which is an important shortcut for vessels travelling between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It allows ships to trim their journey by roughly 8,000 by allowing them to bypass circumnavigating around South America.

_DSC0932-2 3. The French were the ones to make a first serious attempt at building a canal in the 1880s, but their venture was a major failure. In fact, it were the men behind the Suez Canal and Eiffel Tower who undertook this major endeavour. However, when the attempt drastically failed, they were indicted on charges of fraud and mismanagement.  At the time, the French had already sunk more than $260 million into the canal venture and excavated more than 70 million cubic yards of earth.

4. Unfortunately, more than 25,000 workers died in the construction of the Canal, including both the French (more than 20,000) and American (more than 5,000) attempts. Many of these deaths were related to various tropical diseases, most notably malaria and yellow fever.


5. Every year between 13,000 and 14,000 ships use the Canal.

6. Five countries to use the Canal the most are America, China, Chile, Japan and Colombia.

7. Every single vessel passing through the canal must pay a toll based on its size and cargo volume. Tolls for the largest cargo ships run at about $450,000! Almost $2billion are collected in tolls annually.


8. It takes about a ship between 8 to 10 hours to pass through the Panama canal. A system of three locks rates each ship 26 metres above sea level.

9. Ship captains are not permitted to transit the canal on their ownInstead, a specially trained canal pilot takes the navigational control of the ship

10. In 2010, the millionth vessel crossed the canal since it first opened in 1914.


11. The control of Panama Canal was transferred from the United States back to Panama in 1999. There have been major tensions between the two countries every since the canal was opened in early 20th century.

12. The Canal has almost finished undergoing a major expansions to handle todays mega ships, allowing ships three times as large as todays to pass thorough.

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Afterwards we made our way to Meliá Panamá Canal hotel, where we geared up for kayaking in the actual Panama Canal! Its claim to fame is the fact that a part of James Bond was filmed here. Supposedly, it stood in for a place somewhere in Bolivia…


Panama Canal is not all concrete and locks. Gatun Lake is an artificial lake created between the locks and it is an essential part of the Panama Canal which forms a water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, permitting ship transit in both directions. At the time it was formed, Gatun Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world.

And a few snapshots from Meliá Panamá Canal

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One response to “12 Fascinating Facts about the Panama Canal”

  1. Events Panda says:

    What an amazing place! The remains look well preserved.
    Adding to my dream list of places to visit.

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